Writing in the Tamil Guardian on November 27th, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks on his work with British Tamils and his party's commitment to human rights and justice.
Read his full piece below.
I began working with the Tamil community in 1983, the year I was first elected MP for Islington North.
That year, I joined tens of thousands of Tamils at a demonstration in Hyde Park, which must have accounted for a huge proportion of the entire diaspora. I will never forget how deeply inspired I felt as I stood by the community in its mobilisation against systematic abuse and oppression. And I will never forget the abject lack of coverage the march received in the UK - and the anger I felt about it.
I was proud to stand by the community then. And more than 35 years on, with many happy memories of working alongside the community for so many years, I remain proud to continue standing by the community in its struggle for justice.
I know you won’t give up until justice is done, and I won’t either. And as I have long said, the right of Tamils to determine their own future is central to this.
While much has changed for the community since 1983 – a new generation marking all areas of UK life with their successes, we now have ‘Tamils for Labour’, the Tamil Guardian, television channels and social media platforms - in the struggle for justice, much remains the same.
I visited Sri Lanka in 1984 with the help of my friend Vairamuttu Varadakumar, the former director of the Tamil Information Centre, who sadly died earlier this year. At that time I didn’t realise that over the next decades Tamils would face unspeakable abuses and horrific injustices.
The UK is of course home to Tamils not just from Sri Lanka, but also from India, Southeast Asia and beyond. But most came from Sri Lanka in the 1980s and 90s, fleeing the horrors of the civil war, and almost every Tamil I have met in the UK has either been personally affected by the civil war or knows someone who has.
It was an utterly disgraceful moment when former president Mahinda Rajapaksa sought to deny visas to war crimes investigators from the UN.
And after continued refusals to meet UN demands, even after a 2015 report found evidence “strongly indicating” crimes against humanity were committed, it is deeply troubling that Gotabaya Rajapaksa has made an ominous pledge to rescind the Sri Lankan government’s 2015 agreement with the UN to investigate alleged war crimes by both government forces and Tamil Tiger rebels.
As our shadow chancellor John McDonnell made clear last week, we still need answers to the very serious allegations of genocide against the Tamil people, and in this, the UN must play a central role.
The UN is vital to the future of Sri Lanka - and, together with countries around the world, through the UN we can work to ensure global cooperation in helping achieve true peace and justice. I’m delighted that our manifesto makes a specific commitment to the Tamils of Sri Lanka: that in government Labour “will work through the UN and the Commonwealth to insist on the protection of human rights for Sri Lanka’s minority Tamil and Muslim populations”.
I promise you that I will never back down on this pledge.
In line with our commitment to human rights and justice for all, our manifesto pledges that we will appoint human rights advisers to work across the Foreign Office - meaning we can monitor what happens north and east Sri Lanka where I know the ongoing presence of the military worries many. Human rights will also permeate all our choices on arms sales and trade.
And our unshakeable dedication to standing alongside human rights defenders, civil society activists and journalists is because we know just how vital reports from the front lines can be in raising awareness of abuses on the ground - and how we must do all we can to protect those making the rest of us aware of them.
Your community and your families have suffered immensely, and you deserve answers so that we can chart a future where such atrocities can never happen again.
The mothers of the disappeared must know what has happened to their children.
All communities in Sri Lanka must know that they can organise themselves without fear of persecution.
Under a Labour government, Tamils will know they can rest assured of the UK’s unshakeable commitment to true peace, justice and accountability. And this will be matched by policies at home that will also work in the interests of Tamils.
We all want our children to be able to look forward to a future better than our past: we don’t want them to live in a world wrecked by pollution, to have to pay for their health care when their parents never did, or be forced to forego university in fear of drowning in debt.
Our vital programme of investments will make the fifth richest country in the world a fairer place to live. And we’ll fund this by asking the very wealthiest to pay their fair share in taxes.
The future is ours to make. Now is the time for real change.